Custom Search

Kadri kick starts the Leafs; Reimer fights back and a little net crashing make the blue and white full value for two points in Pittsburgh…

I won’t pen a long post (that will probably turn out to be a lie…), but I’ll comment on a few players who were significant in the road win in Pittsburgh. It’s entirely possible, by the way, that I was watching the wrong game, but it just struck me that Crosby wasn’t really the Crosby we often see and that Malkin was largely disinterested in, well, exerting himself.  (If one of our guys turned the puck over in front of his own goal like Malkin did on the second van Riemsdyk goal, we’d talk about it on Twitter for two days.) When that stuff happens, you have to take advantage—and the Leafs did.

Our guys? To me, they look a fair bit like they did the last two seasons in the first handful of games.  Skating hard most of the time, playing pretty smart.  This could be the early days of the 2010-’11 or 2011’-12, in some ways.  But I will grant that they may have a bit more edge to their game at times, though we weren’t complaining when they were winning last season, either.

I know some may rush to credit Carlyle for a “great start” (2 wins in 3 games, maybe 3 in 4 games if they win at home Thursday against the middlish Islanders) and will applaud his line juggling.  (And his appeal to van Riemsdyk and Grabovski to play harder, which paid off against Pittsburgh, at least…) And hey, there is nothing not to like about starting the season with two wins already, or in only giving up 5 goals in the first three games of the season with our two “young, inexperienced” goalies.  But we all know to be cautious, right? 

Still, we can enjoy the moment.

Specific Leafs against the Pens?

Reimer—was not sharp on the two he allowed, but you have to like that, as he did in his first half season with the Leafs, he fought back and held his team in the game until they came back to win it, after giving up a head scratcher.  He was better as the game progressed, I thought.  Made some pretty tough stops.  I admit I wondered why Carlyle threw him in against a top team on the road when Scrivens was into the season and ready to go.  But kudos to Reimer for hanging in.  He could have caved after either goal he gave up but didn’t.

Phaneuf—Like last season, he is starting the year very, very well.  Still playing big minutes which may eventually fatigue him, but for now, this is the “good Dion”.

Kadri—what can we say?  I think Carlyle sees him as the most dangerous guy we have, besides Kessel.  Not as fast or explosive, obviously,  but  as Don Cherry says, those “magic hands” do create offense.  Wednesday night, it was a quick little shift from his off wing to the middle of the ice, and a pass/shot re-directed home by the enigmatic MacArthur.  A simple little play turned things around for the Leafs and gave them some jump.

Kostka--sorry to have jumped on the bandwagon of a guy I would not have known (as Pat Burns said about Bill Berg in the early ‘90s) if I fell over him (I don’t feel bad saying it, given Burns was a top NHL coach and he didn’t seem to have a clue who Berg was…).  But Kostka is just a lot of fun to watch.  Almost 24 minutes on the ice last night.  27 minutes against Buffalo.  Go figure, eh?

Colton Orr—I’m not sports psychologist and don’t particularly love fighting in hockey at this point in my life, but has Orr given the team (like Brown) a boost with his heavyweight tussles?  Don’t know.

Van Riemsdyk—it’s funny.  We talked about a line switch on our LeafMatters podcast after the Buffalo game.  Before I heard it was even a consideration, I thought Carlyle would switch van Riemsdyk with Kulemin.  Instead, he switched MacArthur with the ex-Flyer and both guys scored.

Komisarek—the much-maligned Komisarek was plus 3.  That never hurts.

Kulemin—A lot of us have been struggling to see if Kulemin looks any better this season.  He's been trying, but he seemed to have a fair bit of determination against the Penguins, and 3 assists usually makes for a nice night.

Kessel--was his usual dangerous self.  The puck is not going in for him yet, but that’s OK.  Hopefully the puck will start going in when we need it down the road.

Gunnarsson—I don’t frankly know if Gunnarsson was that much better than he had been in the earlier sort of nondescript games that he had, but he was also a plus 3.  I’m generally happy when I don’t notice him.

Bozak—many of us may not see him as a front-line center, but he played more than 23 minutes against one of the best teams in the East, on the road, and we won 5-2.

Hey, it was nice to see Gardiner back.  Lupul got banged up, which probably means Frattin draws back in.

Leafs got some good bounces (the second van Riemsdyk marker and then the Grabbo goal), but took advantage of them.  I honestly thought Pittsburgh wasn’t real sharp.  They looked ‘off’, but the Leafs were full measure for the road win.  They went to the net (on the MacArthur and first van Riemsdyk goals), though they haven’t exactly been that kind of team.  That’s what Carlyle wants and, well, if they can do it consistently, it would add a dimension to their offense that has not always been there in recent years.

I’m not in the predicting business, so I’ll just take this season one game at a time.  I can use clichés, too, just like the players.


  1. This team plays a much better defensive game under Randy Carlyle. They get the puck out of their zone much more quickly.

    I watched McClement and I am coming to the conclusion that he is an elite penalty killer. I would love to have another like him. Komorov also helps in that area.

    This season the Leafs are 10th in the league on the PK at 84.6%. Last year they were 28th at 77.3%.

    That change on the PK alone might be enough to get them in the playoffs.

    Kadri got another point so he is playing at a point a game. He also drew another 2 penalties so I think that is 5 in 3 games. He is turning into a very useful NHLer.

  2. Michael,

    And that is why I am not in the sports prognostication business. They played perhaps the best game I think they are capable of playing. Too bad about Lupul. At times last year, I thought he was our most complete player, as well as the best forward.

    Do you have any thoughts on the home opener blues? They seem to be rampant in the League. I think it might have to do with the amount of time the players for the home side are left standing at centre ice waving, and applauding. They had just got their motors running during the pregame skate, and then whammo. Stand there like a statue for 25 minutes while we introduce players that used to be good for our team.

    The Leafs did do a better job of playing with fire. Or getting dirty, or whatever cliche you would care to trot out. The buttons were pushed succesfully and the response was, in my opinion, better play from those who were criticized. Reimer did play very well for all but two shots. He looked terrible on them, but if you only give up two, I don't think it matters what those goals look like.

    Who starts tonight against the Islanders? Is it Reimer since he got the win last night? Or do they do more of a rotational thing and come back with Scrivens? Good to have choices, me thinks. Both guys have shown well early on, lets keep it going, get on a real roll and make the playoffs.

  3. Thanks DP. I'll be more of a mind to fully assess perceived progress after about 15 games, including on the penalty kill. But winning is fun, for sure.

  4. I'm guessing it's Reimer tonight, Jim. I don't like the win until you lose approach (a guy can play very well and still lose) but we'll see how this evolves. Still so early.

  5. There's some likable things going on with the Leafs in 3 games. As I wrote in my own piece which your 'whats the identity' post prompted, I like that they are doing the little things better. They make some mistakes, but they are making the right play more often, and that's going to be the start of success.

    Just a few things...

    I saw someone post on twitter that currently, Bozak has taken the highest percentage of his team's faceoffs of any player so far this season, and he's over 60%. That's good. He may never evolve into a truly 'elite' center, but I have to admit the guy is a solid NHL top-6 forward.

    I have nothing against Colton Orr. I like the tough guys, I am old skool... I rank Tiger and Tie and Belak and Bomber and Big Daddy as among my favourite guys. But, I am not sure about Orr's role. He hasn't hurt them, he brings his lunchpail and works hard. I just don't know how I feel about his playing in 3 games so far.

    I refuse to get into any kind of debate about how Kadri is proving he should have been here last season or whenever. It is what it is. We'll never truly know if he is the player he is now for any one reason, whether Carlyle's coaching/the extra time in the AHL/the 'too fat' and 1-game benching stuff from early this season or some combination of all of it has combined to motivate him. Much has changed for him, and for the organization since his draft day. He is contributing now, and is showing he's a pretty decent NHL player.

    I am trying to watch Phaneuf, Komisarek and Gunnarsson. I think for better or worse these 3 are going to be the guys the blueline corps lives or dies on. So far, I am not 100%... they look pretty good, but I still am not convinced that long term they are going to anchor things. But I have no complaints so far.

  6. It's funny, Mark. I've posted here over the past year or so that I thought Bozak had more to give. I liked a lot about his game. He seems to be a player that keeps getting better. Maybe he won't be a lot of Leaf fans' idea of a classic high-end centre, but he does a lot of things well- sees the ice, can move the puck and finish sometimes. Will he ever big that big, physical center that everyone would love to have? Seemingly not, but he is a nice player.

    On Kadri, as I've said here for ages, I just want to see them let the guy play.
    That seems to be happening now.

    Our blueline will have to be a strength. Right now things look OK....longer term, we'll see. Thanks Mark.

  7. I watched the Pittsburgh feed of the game last night (very good, by the way). They kept mentioning how the speed of the Leafs was giving the Pens trouble. That's not the sort of comment I thought I'd be hearing this year! Three games in and I'm seeing a team that's better at clearing their own zone, finishing their checks more, pretty darn solid on the PK, and playing within themselves on D. Last night we saw some of the offensive potential we get flashes of from time to time. I'm looking forward to seeing this develop further. (And yes, we have to keep reminding ourselves this was game 3. Reality will set in around game 20).
    Too bad about Lupul - injuries are certainly the story of the early NHL season so far.
    Some player observations:
    Goal - Reimer played pretty much the same as usual: a couple of soft-ish goals, some big stops, a few times when he seems to lose sight of the puck, an unruffled demeanour. I thought he seemed more confident than Scrivens has seemed, but I don't think he played any better.
    Defence - since I've been saying for 3 years that Komi was going to get better, allow me to feel happy that he seems more like his hey-day self. Some heavy hits, solid play - +3, you say? Great start. But the whole defence corps looks good to me. If this is a result of Carlyle's approach, and the tutelage of Dallas Eakins at the Marlies, I'm becoming a believer.
    Forwards - JvR, Kulemin, and Grabovski all seemed to be really motivated last night. Since the third period of the Sabres game, I've noticed Kulemin seems to be getting back into his groove of two years ago. Grabbo looked feisty again, and JvR delivered just what we expected. Loved both his goals. And doesn't Bozak look good? The Pittsburgh broadcasters were marvelling at his faceoff ability. Kadri and Komarov both look comfortable, Kessel had a bunch of chances... all bodes well for the future if we continue as we've begun. (BTW, is there any other team with so many players whose last names begin with "K"?)
    PK - awesome!
    PP - well, obviously needs major improvement. I loved Carlyle's comment that our PP looks like a men's league. The Pens method of moving the puck on the PP was inspiring to watch - maybe we'll get there after playing together for a while.
    Overall, the Leafs seem like they understand their responsibilities in Carlyle's system and are performing them, for the most part. I like the way the coach analyzes each game - he seems fair when assessing the pros and cons. It feels like the team is moulding itself into the Carlyle team... so far, so good!

  8. Some thoughts on some players:

    Kostka - I watched him a fair bit with the Marlies and was impressed, but really wasn't sure how he would handle the pace/pressure of the NHL. So far so good!

    Bozak - Not overly impressed with his first two games, but last night he was moving his feet and playing with some urgency. Hope he continues to step up his game. Could be wrong but he's playing more physical (or at least trying to) this year.

    Gunnarsson - So far this season he has under-performed. That may be partly attributed to his defence pairings, and also getting familiar again with the smaller North American ice surfcaes.

    Kulemin - Despite being a +3, I thought his first two games were similar to what we saw last season. Then last night he surprised us with a fast drive down the right side past Letang, and he then drove towards the net!!! Then fed a nice pass to JVR for a goal. More of that please Nik.

    Komarov and McClement - These two guys have been great additions to the team. Their forecheck and aggressive D have really been a plus for the Leafs. They've improved the PK so much as well.

    Didn't look like Malkin was on his game last night, but otherwise Leafs beat a very good Pittsburgh team. Good on them.

  9. No question there are plenty of things to feel positive about when it comes to the Leaf performance in Pittsburgh, Gerund O'. It's a work in progress but all the things you mention indicate the team is taking steps in a good direction.

    It's early to know if Carlyle's "influence" will last, but I'm guessing it should. He seems to have a presence, for now, that the players will respond to - if not always like.

  10. All fair observations, Don (TML_fan).

    For me, I just want to see Kuelmin drive by people, move his feet, use his size, and be hard to play against. He doesn't have to score 30 goals to impress me (though it wouldn't hurt!).

    And yes, I'm hoping Gunner founds his groove. He's been "fine" but not quite himself.

  11. A win is a win as we have said before. So far the Leafs are playing all right. The biggest difference I see so far is the defensive game. It seems to be just better.

    As for Kulemin, I heard or read a good theory on him and really all guys that played over seas. It is going to take those guys a while to get used to playing on a smaller ice surface again. They have to get used to not having the extra space and time to do things. I imagine the goal the Kulemin was on for against Buffalo was a good example of that. He would probably never have had someone chase him that high along the boards in the KHL and just wasn't ready for the pressure from Pomminville.

    I have to say Riemer last night reminded me of the Riemer of old. Yeah he gave up two soft goals but he shut the door in the third much like he did in his rookie year. His bad goals don't seem to come at killer times like they did with Gustafson or Toskala.

    Three games in and so far so good. Now comes the real test, all the home openers are over, the players are getting back up to speed and things are going to get harder and harder.

  12. Kulemin could indeed be a key cog if he finds his overall game, Willbur. And I'm good with Reimer. I don't expect him to be perfect. Tons of goalies give up "bad goals". It's how you respond that usually matters.

    Things will even out, yes, as players find their 'norm'. But if the Leafs can push forward, then, hey, it can only help as the season unfolds.